Strengthening Pre-Collegiate Education in Community Colleges (SPECC)

A multi-site action-research project (2007-2009), SPECC focused on teaching and learning in pre-collegiate mathematics and English language arts at 11 California community colleges. It was a joint project with The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Senior Staff

Major Publications

A set of reports drawn from the work on the 11 participating campuses were produced over the final year and a half of the project by different members of the Carnegie team.

Basic Skills for Complex Lives: Designs for Learning in the Community College
The SPECC project overlapped the beginning of the statewide Basic Skills Initiative. This document is part of a professional conversation that acknowledged shortcomings in the structure and delivery of developmental education/basic skills courses. Basic Skills for Complex Lives calls for colleges to consider the strengths students bring, not only their deficits, and to see success of these students as an institution-wide responsibility. Colleges could create powerful classrooms through a focus on teaching and learning, supported by a new approach to professional development.
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Listening to Students About Learning

By Andrea Conklin Bueschel
This project took place at a time when a small—but growing—number of basic skills teachers were introducing innovative and alternative instructional approaches in their classroom. When teachers varied their instruction to be interactive or more attentive to affective responses, they also regarded students not as the subject or object of inquiry, but rather as active partners in inquiry into the effectiveness of these teaching approaches. Faculty found that learning in the classroom benefited when students had the opportunity to explore and share their own insights.
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The Promise of Faculty Inquiry for Teaching and Learning Basic Skills

By Mary Taylor Huber
SPECC faculty embraced the concept of the scholarship of teaching and learning. As community college educators, they applied these ideas to inquiry into their own classrooms and across their colleges. Collaboratively with colleagues, faculty conducted inquiry to explore common issues with those who taught similar courses or examined outcomes with those who worked together in a program or department. Participating colleges found that faculty inquiry groups contributed to building a collegial teaching culture for students in basic skills courses.
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Faculty Inquiry in Action: Guidelines for Working Together to Improve Student Learning

This short booklet highlights the interrelationship between the power of inquiry and the power of community. Inquiry, rooted in local questions, leads to generating and further exploring evidence. Community provides the setting for the collaborative process of improvement. In faculty inquiry groups, educators engaged with colleagues around new teaching models, and new approaches within a department or program. As part a regular part of professional life, inquiry strengthened a culture with student learning at the center.
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Change and Sustain/Ability: A Program Director’s Reflections on Institutional Learning
By Rose Asera
In this document the program director sums up what the SPECC team observed about the forces that encouraged and supported change at the institutional level, and what would make those changes sustainable over time. The dimensions of change included the development of faculty leadership, the growth of a campus understanding its students, the increase in use of data and evidence, and the redefinition of professional development. Sustainability did not mean that the programs continued, rather that the principles and components became part of the ongoing work and culture of the institution.
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Toward Informative Assessment and a Culture of Evidence
By Lloyd Bond
At the time of these reports, institutional research capacity was uneven across colleges, while the need for data to understand student learning was increasingly recognized. This document presents participating college cases about student success, retention and persistence and as well examples of assessment data used as tools for inquiry and improvement. Final recommendations: 1. to expand the role of institutional research to focus on issues of teaching and learning and
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Strengthening Pre-collegiate Education in Community Colleges: Project Summary and Recommendations
The SPECC project concluded with observations about learning in the classroom, faculty professional learning, and the role of evidence in improving student learning. Resulting recommendations for action were directed at faculty, college, and system levels about: institution-wide responsibility for basic skills, development of intellectually engaging professional development, the role of institutional research, the need for assessment and measures of student learning, and the possibilities of large-scale infrastructure to share effective college efforts.
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Carnegie Perspectives

Online Resources